Supreme Court OK’s DNA Swab of People Under Arrest


The Supreme Court on Monday upheld the police practice of taking DNA samples from people who have been arrested but not convicted of a crime, ruling that it amounts to the 21st century version of fingerprinting.

In a 5-4 decision the Supreme Court of the United States ruled (PDF) that the government has the right to collect a DNA sample from anyone arrested and charged for a “serious crime” without a warrant and well before a conviction.

“When officers make an arrest supported by probable cause to hold for a serious offense and they bring the suspect to the station to be detained in custody, taking and analyzing a cheek swab of the arrestee’s DNA is, like fingerprinting and photographing, a legitimate police booking procedure that is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy in the majority opinion.

Law enforcement is already authorized to handcuff suspects, pat them down, draw blood, and strip search someone before taking them to a jail cell. “Clearly, they can touch the inside of your cheek and take a DNA swab,” Gansler said.

Twenty-six states already collect DNA from those arrested for felonies or other serious crimes and upload it into a national database run by the federal government. The purpose: to find matches with unsolved crimes.

Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler welcomed the decision, calling it a “resounding victory for law enforcement.” He said laws like the one in Maryland helped close “unsolvable cold cases” and could help exonerate those wrongly accused.

The justices have been inundated in recent years with difficult Fourth Amendment cases as well as others involving modern technology. Last year, they held that police could not attach a GPS tracking device to a car in order to monitor a suspect’s movements. This year, they ruled that using a drug-sniffing dog with reasonable suspicion was OK — but not at the door of a private home. And they decided that executing a search warrant after a suspect had left his home was out of bounds.